|By Hannah Sampson, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 06, 2013--Starwood's hip new hotel brand Aloft -- billed as a more affordable "vision of W Hotels" -- is finally coming to South Florida.
The first will open Thursday in Doral. Plans call for an additional hotel opening late next month near Miami's Brickell Avenue and another in Miami Beach by the end of 2014.
Located near the headquarters of major companies including Carnival Corp., Perry Ellis International, Ryder and Univision, the 145-room hotel at 3265 NW 107th Ave. will cater to corporate travelers on short trips.
"This is, to me, the real business or financial district of Miami," said general manager Claudio Bono.
With an eye on those business travelers, Bono said the Aloft Miami Doral has five meeting rooms with 3,200 square feet of space -- more than usual for the brand -- as well as five suites.
"We're going to upgrade in every possible area," Bono said.
The developers behind the new Aloft are building another Starwood hotel, an eco-friendly Element targeted at extended stay customers, on an adjacent piece of land. The 139-room Element breaks ground this month; it will be the second in Miami-Dade after a location near Miami International Airport. Doral Hotel Enterprise, a division of Multiphone Group and Eurocon LLC, is developing the side-by-side hotels at a total cost of about $50 million.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide -- the company behind brands including St. Regis, W, Westin, Sheraton and Element -- launched Aloft five years ago. By the end of this year, franchise partners will have openedabout 80 Alofts total in locales both far-flung (Kuala Lumpur and Panama City) and domestic (Cupertino, Calif. and Cleveland, Ohio).
Brian McGuinness, Starwood's senior vice president for specialty select brands, said the company wanted to reinvent the "staid, tired" midmarket hotel that people stayed at "because you couldn't stay anywhere else."
"We looked at that and said we want to bring style, design, all at affordable prices," he said.
Aloft hotels embrace a "style at a steal" mentality with open lobbies where lighting and music changes four times a day; a curved front desk that resembles a DJ booth; free fast Wi-Fi; complimentary bottled water; 42-inch TVs; pet-friendly policies; art programs featuring local artists; a self-serve snack bar and an actual bar called w xyz.
The six-story Doral location will also boast a synchronized "Bellagio-type" fountain outside, Bono said, and weekly DJ and karaoke nights.
McGuinness said the brand should be a good fit for Miami.
"The dynamic there is wonderful," he said. "There's great passion around food, music, art, design; certainly those are the tenets of the Aloft brand, so it matches quite nicely with our initiatives."
While significantly less expensive than the W brand that inspired Aloft, prices are hardly rock-bottom.
A weekend stay at the new Aloft in early April starts at $159 a night, compared to $143 a night at the Element Miami International Airport and $709 at the W South Beach.
Miami hotel consultant Scott Brush said the Aloft sits in a category that has seen growth even as the recession forced a slowdown in hotel development.
"It's the most popular end of the market these days," he said.
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